Royalty in Transition: The Changing Face of the Rajput Woman in Rajasthan

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Item Code: NAC361
Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd.
Author: Sharad Rathore
Language: English
Edition: 2010
Pages: 185 (36 B/W & 16 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.3 Inch X 6.3 Inch
Weight 480 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Sometimes betrothals were finalized by the father of the bride when he visited the state or thikana of the groom. ‘Sagai ka naler’ (coconut), the formal finalizing ceremony of betrothal or tika, was sent through a party consisting of mautbir representatives. The tika party of the two Baiji Lal Sahebs (princesses) of Jodhpur to Maharaja Man Singh in 1931 consisted of two sirdars, four musaddis, sixteen officials 246 followers and twenty-nine horses.

Historically and traditionally, the Rajputs have formed the ruling class of Rajasthan. They dominated the social and political scenario as rulers of various princely states and thikanas.

Rajput feudal society has been the most conservative of structures. The rigidity of the society and of Rajput customs is credited to the uncertainties hovering over the lives of this martial r ace. Chastity, honour and the prestige of Rajput women were synonymous with family prestige. The norms governing Rajput women have been very strict since time immemorial. This book takes an insightful look at the basic social institutions of upper-class Rajput society. It traces the changes that took place in social institutions in the nineteenth century, the effects of the various factors of change, and the final emergence of the society in the present context with a changed perspective.

The emphasis is to highlight the positive changes in Rajput society which have contributed in bringing about a transformation in the attitudes towards women.

Born and brought up in Rajasthan, Dr Sharad Rathore completed her Ph.D in History from the University of Rajasthan. Deeply involved in social work apart from academies for the last 16 years, she teaches History at the IIS University, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Author’s Note

This work is an effort to record the experiences of a bygone era through the lens of Rajput women, along with archival material. Rajput society has a rich heritage and has witnessed a plethora of transformation. These changes altered the shape of Rajput society and culture and led to the erosion of a distinct way of life. I decided to conduct research on this topic after closely observing the distinct customs and traditions that had been governing the lives of women belonging to Rajput families. The tales I had heard from the older generation (of relatives and domestic help who had served the royal families) encouraged me to carry forward my quest. I was trying to put on record things that seemed to be gradually fading into oblivion — the lives of Rajput royalty and the institutions that governed the lives of women in the past. I felt that a first-hand narrative coupled with the primary sources of history needed to be put on record in the form of a book so it can be treasured by future generations.


The present work is a study of the basic social institutions of upper-class Rajput society. An attempt has been made to study Rajput social institutions in the nineteenth century, the effects of the various factors of change, and the final emergence of the society in its present context, with a changed perspective. The main emphasis of the work is to highlight the changes in Rajput society which have contributed in bringing about to change of attitudes.

There is hardly any study to date on the gradual changes that have taken place in Rajput society. Some scholars have written about women in general, but no specific study of Rajput women has been conducted. Also, these studies are confined to the economic and political aspects, while the social aspect has been neglected. Therefore, there was a need to investigate the important social changes that took place in Rajput society, particularly in the realm of women’s issues.

I have chosen this section of society because historically and traditionally, the Rajputs formed the ruling class. They dominated the social and political scenario as rulers of the different princely states and thikanas of Rajasthan. ‘They were the rulers, protectors of kingdoms, source of internal and external security, as well as the final authority on justice. Thus, they were not only the rulers, but also the leaders of the society. The society looked up to them. ‘They had widespread influence over the lives of the people in their states and thikanas. This influence is discernible from the fact that, on occasions such as the celebration of marriages, festivals, etc. in the family, the women, after singing the praises of Cod, sang songs in the name of the ruler or jagirdar (noble) of their locality. As social leaders, their courts were like mirrors which reflected the various aspects of public life, and provided insight into it. Thus, a study of the different aspects of their lives enables us to understand the changes that took place in the society, since everything percolated through the rulers in those days. They were the barometers of social change, and through them we can study the shifts that occurred in the society.

Rajput feudal society has been the most conservative of structures, as far as the social scenario is concerned. The rigidity of the society and of Rajput customs can be credited to the uncertainties of their lives as the Rajputs formed a martial race. Chastity, honour and prestige of Rajput women were synonymous with family prestige. So, the norms and traditions governing Rajput society were so strict that they could not be violated or overstepped. In accordance to them, the customs of sail, Jauhar, purdah, as well as the absence of widow remarriage and other such institutions can be seen. The primary intention was the preservation of female virtues of purity and character, which were considered instrumental in the maintenance of family honour and prestige. There was particular emphasis on women’s adherence to Rajput customs and traditions, which shaped their behaviour and guided them at every step. Such institutions, through their rigidity boosted the morale of Rajput men. It provided them encouragement and assurance to fight wars unto death, without any burden of the consideration of family prestige.

Thus, the Rajput structure remained very rigid and refused to let any liberal influence penetrate, till the end of the nineteenth century. The fact that the establishment of an era of peace, coupled with the changed roles of the rulers from protectors to mere administrators in the domestic setup, resulted in the increased influence of the British, cannot be overlooked. In the changed situation, the cultivation and possession of martial qualities was not considered sufficient for a community to hold the foremost place in public estimation. The customs, traditions and institutions associated with Rajput martial society were rendered useless in the new setup. But they continued in their unchanged form even in the new setup. These social customs, traditions and institutions attracted the attention of British officers. Customs like sati, marriage and death expenses, female infanticide, tyag, etc., were widely prevalent in the society. Many British officers took an active interest in seeking remedies to cure such ills.

Factors such as age-old customs and traditions like purdah, traditional forms of education, marriage, joint family, etc., were inimical to the positive influences that were striving to enter this structure. However, Rajput society maintained its conservatism and refused to respond to positive influences which were theoretically operating in all the other sections of society at large. Despite such negative factors, today we see Rajput society emerging on an equal footing with the other societies of India.

The process of change began after the treaties of 1818 (signed between the Rajput rulers and the British). All major states of Rajasthan came under British administration, and were bound to maintain Residents and British officers in their states. The era of British protection and influence continued till Independence. During this period, the British exercised their influence on the Rajput rulers and their nobles in a number of ways. This influence affected the Rajput social institutions indirectly, bringing about gradual changes in the attitudes of generations.

The interaction of the British with Rajput society and the feudal setup led to gradual changes in the lifestyle and mentality of the Rajputs. Their influence was welcomed because the adoption of the British way of life was seen as high-profile by the rulers, princes and nobles. These progressive influences entered the society very quietly, and started bringing about gradual changes.

The integration of the princely states into the Indian Union, and the merger of the jagirs was a shattering blow to the public authority and economic resources of the rulers and nobles. These changes severed the bonds which had traditionally linked the jagirdars to their rulers and undermined the status and the political and financial bases of the Rajput community. Thus, radical changes in the political environment shook the very foundations of a social order which derived its basic strength and power from their control over defense and rule. It also led to the curtailment of their finances. This reflected itself in the need to change according to the times, bringing sweeping changes in lifestyle and all other aspects of life. This changed the attitudes of the former rulers and nobles towards the established traditions governing society.

This study is based on the fact that the traditional institutions and attitudes of Rajput women have been undergoing a process of transformation along with the transitional society The various factors responsible for this change are a combination of British influence, modern education, changing values in society, intermixing of castes, development of new political ideologies, economic changes, scientific and technological advances, industrialisation and urbanisation. The main purpose of this work is to highlight the changes that modified lifestyles and attitudes in this tradition-bound society my goal is to understand how the traditional social institutions that have governed Rajput women and society for a very long time have been affected by change.

Studies on Hindu women have been conducted by many scholars like Cormack, CA. Hate, Neera Desai, Merchant, and G.B. Desai. These studies reflect that significant transformation is taking place among women in Hindu society For example, Hate reveals that there is a growing tendency among educated women to marry late; divorces are happening; the joint family is disintegrating and the concept of the under family is emerging; and there is an increasing participation of women in the economic and social sphere. This highlights the fact that the traditional concepts of womanhood are undergoing a process of transition in contemporary India. Society and its values are changing. Women are gradually accepting a modern outlook. They are losing their belief in superstitions, asserting their freedom, and claiming equal rights with men. All these changes have affected Rajput women in varying degrees.

Rajputs are particularly conscious of their unique status as a people of royal blood. Their sense of distinctiveness is maintained by a balanced adoption of modernity and tradition. They have adapted themselves to the changing world, and have simultaneously tried to retain the finer points of the culture and tradition which reflected their status and prestige. ‘There is the simultaneous persistence to conserve tradition and the need to change. Families which have adapted themselves to the changed Context have maintained their position of dominance even in the new secular society.

Attitudes are a product of ‘accumulated beliefs formed by past experience and through the process of learning by following parents, friends and elders. They focus on an object or situation. They are interrelated predispositions, and lead a person to make preferential responses. Many factors play an important role in the formation of a person’s attitude. For instance, parents’ education, occupation, mode of education, and specific social traits all play a part in it. The socio-economic and the cultural milieu in which a person is brought up also plays a significant role in the formation of an individual’s attitude.

Thus, a reflection of changing attitudes is based on the general observations of the various social institutions, as well as the responses of three generations of upper-class women from all over Rajasthan on the basis of personal interviews. The first-generation respondents were aged seventy years and above; the second generation was in the age group of fifty to seventy years; and the third generation includes respondents aged thirty to fifty years. A study of their responses highlights the stages of attitude-change and the factors affecting it. For a historical perspective, the help of archaeological sources was also sought along with the interviews.

Chapter one deals with the institution of purdah—its origin, form, mode of observance, and the different aspects of life affected by it. It also discusses the factors which contributed to the relaxation of purdah and its gradual abolition, as well as the changed attitude of women towards it.

Chapter two contains descriptions of the various underlying principles which have traditionally governed Rajput marriages, like case endogamy, clan exogamy, hypergamy, etc. It also deals with the various aspects of betrothal, the role of davrees, horoscopes, aata-sata vivah (exchange marriage), the non- revocable nature of betrothal, items given on tika, dowry, and divorce. These changes, along with the reform activities of Walterkrit Rajputra 1-Iitkarini Sabba and other agencies which tried to curtail the heavy expenses incurred over it, have also been discussed. Other aspects of marriage such as the age, qualities desired in brides and grooms, and choice in the selection of brides and grooms, along with the changes, arc discussed.

In Chapter Three, I have discussed the nature and the form of education, as it existed. The syllabus of study, along with the various aspects of education, like religious education, letter writing, military education and administrative skills, have been separately discussed. Also, the influence of the British officers, and education of the rulers and their role in the spread of women’s education have been highlighted. The role of the maharanis—who provided encouragement to women’s education—of various states such as Bikaner, Kota and Jaipur has also been highlighted. The responses of the three generations further reflect the importance of education in the contemporary setup.

Chapter Four deals with the Rajput joint family, the influence of religion, dress, and ornaments of the Rajput women. Some distinctive features of the Rajput joint family as against those of Hindu society; the various factors which affected its unity and the changes are discussed. The impact of religion on the lives of Rajput women in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, along with the change in costume and ornaments, have been taken into consideration.

In Chapter Five, I have discussed the role of the various political, social and reform movements which have been instrumental in bringing about a change among Rajput women. ‘The role of British officers, Swami Dayanand Sarasvati, the activities of the Arya Samaj and other caste organisations like Desh Hiteshini Sabha, Paropicarini Sabha, Walterkrit Rajputra Hitkarini Sabha, have also been dealt with. These movements have indirectly affected the position of women. Above all, the effects of integration are also highlighted since it brought about significant changes in Rajput society. Finally, in the conclusion in Chapter Six, I have tried to analyse Rajput society with respect to the above mentioned changes.


Author’s Note ix
Acknowledgement xi
Introduction xiii
1. Purdah 1
2. Changing Attitudes towards Marriage 18
3. New Outlook towards Education 51
4. Joint Family, Religion, Dress and Ornaments 70
5. Role of Social, Political and Caste Organisation 110
Conclusion 135
Genealogical Tree of the House of Bikaner 142
End Notes 144
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